Primary health care is the foundation of the health care system. It is the first point of contact people have with the health care system. It could be through a doctor, a nurse, another health professional, or perhaps through phone or computer-based services.
Primary health care involves providing services, through teams of health professionals, to individuals, families and communities. It also involves a proactive approach to preventing health problems and ensuring better management and follow-up once a health problem has occurred. These services are publicly funded from general tax revenues without direct charges to the patient.
A patient may be referred for specialized care at a hospital or long-term care facility or in the community. The majority of Canadian hospitals are operated by community boards of trustees, voluntary organizations or municipalities. For the most part, health care services provided in long-term institutions are paid for by the provincial and territorial governments, while room and board are paid for by the individual; in some cases these payments are subsidized by the provincial and territorial governments.
Alternatively, health care services may be provided in the home and/or community. Referrals to home care can be made by doctors, hospitals, community agencies, families and potential residents. These services, such as specialized nursing care, homemaker services and adult day care, are provided to people who are partially or totally incapacitated. Needs are assessed, and services are coordinated to provide continuity of care and comprehensive care.
The provinces and territories also provide coverage to certain groups of people (e.g., seniors, children and social assistance recipients) for health services that are not generally covered under the publicly funded health care system. These supplementary health benefits often include prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, medical equipment and appliances (prostheses, wheelchairs, etc.), independent living and the services of allied health professionals, such as podiatrists and chiropractors. The level of coverage varies across the country. Many Canadians have supplemental private insurance coverage through group plans, which covers the cost of these supplementary services.